By Shannon Rikard

After shooting competitive archery for 20 years, Denise Parker, CEO of USA Archery, admits it’s challenging to look impartially at archery to make it more attractive to newcomers. So, what should experts do to strengthen a sport they can’t objectively view? Parker sought help from her archery colleagues. And her strategy worked.

USA Archery, the sport’s national governing body, saw youth memberships increase 105 percent from 2013 to 2014, while overall membership increased 86 percent.

“When you’re in the thick of a situation, you can’t always make something appeal to newcomers,” said Parker, who’s also an author and Olympic medalist. “I knew an outreach program could introduce people to archery in a fresh, exciting way, but I couldn’t do it alone.”

In 2011, Parker approached Jay McAninch, the Archery Trade Association’s CEO/president, and Greg Easton, president of Jas. D. Easton Inc., to discuss how to offer a next step for new archers. Everyone at ATA recognized that need, and were eager to develop grassroots archery programs.

ATA supports USA Archery’s outreach program in three areas: development of the Explore Archery curriculum, general funding for outreach staff and program implementation, and revision and adaptation of the instructor certification program.

ATA Support by the Numbers

•ATA contributed $55,000 to USA Archery’s outreach program in 2012.

•ATA paid the first of three $150,000 annual investments in 2013 to help USA Archery build its outreach program.

•During the 2013-2014 budget year, ATA provided $75,000 in direct funding and about $50,000 in staff support to create Explore Archery and help USA Archery produce the program.

•ATA invested $53,000 to support USA Archery’s Instructor Certification program in the 2013-2014 budget year.

•ATA invested $100,000 in 2013 and $110,000 in 2014 to support USA Archery’s instructor certification program.

•With the support of ATA and ESDF, USA Archery’s outreach program staff grew from five employees and one contract position in 2008 to 13 employees and five contractors in 2015.

USA Archery Grows Because of Outreach Program

•Overall memberships increased 262 percent from 2011 to 2014.

•Youth memberships increased 366 percent from 2011 to 2014.

•Female memberships—including youths and women—increased 99 percent from 2013 to 2014.

ATA Boosts Explore Archery and USA Archery

The ATA Trade Show, the ATA’s most visible event, generates money that supports partnerships. Since the ATA changed its business model in 2000, Show proceeds exceeding $15 million have helped provide staff expertise, program development, and range and facility construction for archers and bowhunters. The net proceeds also support hundreds of projects that put bows into the hands of new archers.

Emily Beach, ATA’s manager of education and curriculum development; and Jennifer Mazur, ATA’s coordinator of interactive media and education, helped design activities, a curriculum, and an updated certification program for Explore Archery.

“ATA staff members contributed significantly to creating Explore Archery and updating the certification programs,” Parker said. “Emily and Jennifer are incredibly talented at communicating concepts in a basic way that’s also fun and interesting.” Parker also said ATA’s support helps position USA Archery to take archers from the beginner level through the outreach program all the way to the Olympics.

Closing the Gap Between Beginners and Medalists

“Before Explore Archery, there was a gap in educational and instructional programming,” Beach said. “Programs skipped from basic archery to Explore Bowhunting or to competition-level instruction like the Junior Olympic Archery Development. Beginners had no middle ground to build their skills and confidence before moving on to competition or bowhunting.”

This lack of a clear pathway left many new archers unsure how to progress. In contrast, consider baseball’s progression path. Tee-ball begins around age 4, and then kids can participate in incrementally more advanced programs to learn more skills and receive advanced coaching. Along the way, they can also participate in baseball camps, training sessions, and travel teams through their teens. Every team competes for the playoffs, and players compete for all-star teams. This progression gives kids goals.

Explore Archery helps define a similar path. “Many people get introduced to archery through media, classes, or programs, but then they aren’t sure how to continue,” Mazur said. “Explore Archery helps archers progress from beginner to intermediate, and includes unconventional activities that encourage them to think beyond shooting arrows at traditional targets.”

Because events aren’t routinely linked, kids who try target archery at an outdoor show might never hear about 3-D archery, or realize archery is an Olympic sport. The Council to Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports (shootingcouncil.org), which includes the ATA and USA Archery, intends to link all kinds of shooting and hunting programs, including all archery options. The goal is to instill and sustain interest and participation.

Explore Archery was developed in response to a tremendous growth in archery since 2012, fueled in part by bow-wielding Katniss Everdeen and “The Hunger Games” movies. But Parker gives credit elsewhere, too.

“I wholeheartedly believe media excitement added interest to our sport,” Parker said. “But if Jay McAninch hadn’t started laying the groundwork in the form of archery parks, archery programs, and funding opportunities; and coordinated efforts with other organizations beginning in 2001, we couldn’t have capitalized on the excitement the way we have. It’s been incredible.”

Explore Archery and the outreach program is only one part of USA Archery’s Athlete Development Pipeline, which shows how archers who want more than an introduction to archery can take lessons, join clubs, or sign up for competition. For some archers, the goal is competing for medals and a podium spot on an international stage. Others might aspire to bowhunt or enjoy recreational archery in their backyard.

Instructor certification is another area USA Archery has tackled with ATA help. Certified archery trainers (who also have had background checks) can help archers achieve their goals by introducing beginners to the sport, identifying talented athletes, and consulting with athletes about equipment purchases.

“Ultimately, USA Archery’s objective is to support the industry,” Parker said. “Strong partnerships help USA Archery build our outreach programs, which adds to a base of people who enjoy archery. Many of them will buy equipment and support archery through their tax dollars.

USA Archery CEO Denise Parker

Caption: Denise Parker, Olympic medalist and CEO of USA Archery, worked with the ATA and the Easton Sports Development Foundations to build archery programs. Photo Credit: Shannon Rikard

USA Archery female membership

Caption: USA Archery female memberships—including youths and women—increased 99 percent from 2013 to 2014. Photo Credit: USA Archery

USA Archery Explore Archery activities

Caption: Explore Archery activities, like popping paint-filled balloons, encourage archers to think beyond shooting arrows at traditional targets. Photo Credit: USA Archery

For more information, visit archerytrade.orgusaarchery.org